Russian military force to assist EU mission in Chad


RUSSIA:RUSSIA HAS agreed to send four helicopters and up to 200 military personnel to take part in the EU mission to Chad despite recent tensions with Europe over its role in the Georgian crisis.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree earlier this week authorising the deployment of the military force, which will provide the EU mission (Eufor) with much-needed tactical air support for its humanitarian mission.

The 3,700-strong EU contingent will use the helicopters to transport troops and support military operations on the ground.

"The addition of the four helicopters will strengthen the operational effectiveness of the force on the ground," said Comdt Dan Harvey, a spokesman for the Eufor mission, who added that the deployment of extra Polish troops next week would see Eufor at full strength for the first time.

EU officials met this week to discuss Russia's decision to provide the helicopters in the light of increased tensions between the EU and Russia over Georgia.

They decided the helicopters should be accepted as they were being offered as part of an ongoing humanitarian mission in Chad and the Central African Republic.

The Russian contingent will include four Mi-8MT transport helicopters, which can be deployed for up to a year.

The EU has struggled to find the 16-20 helicopters that force commander Lieut Gen Pat Nash pinpointed as necessary to undertake the difficult Chad mission.

There is a general shortage of helicopters across Europe, a problem which is compounded by the fact that many states are overstretched in Afghanistan.

The decision by Russia to contribute to the Chad mission marks the first time it has provided military equipment and personnel to an EU military force.

There were concerns that the current tensions between the EU and Russia might have derailed the deployment, which has been negotiated after lengthy discussions since early this year.

President Medvedev signed the decree for the deployment on Monday, which was also the day that an EU summit strongly condemned Russia's recent action in Georgia.

EU analysts said yesterday that Europe's failure to provide its own helicopters for the mission and its need to rely on Russia, highlighted the EU's overall military weakness.

"This shows that the EU is much more militarily weak than many people realise.

"Despite spending €200 billion annually, it still took fully six months to find only 16 helicopters and 10 transport planes for the Chad mission," said Daniel Keohane, research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris.

Meanwhile, MEPs at the European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday strongly condemning Russia's actions in Georgia and urging it to "honour all its commitments" to withdraw its troops under a ceasefire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The resolution, which was adopted by 549 votes in favour and 68 against, condemned the "unacceptable and disproportionate military action by Russia", underlining that "there is no legitimate reason for Russia to invade Georgia, occupy parts of it and threaten to override the government of a democratic country".